5 Tips to Help You Write A Scholarship-Winning Essay

This is a guest post by Nicole Harris from CollegeAnswer.

Going to college to earn a degree would be easier if all you had to do was apply to your school of choice and gain acceptance without having to worry about competing with other students or having to pay for it. Unfortunately, things don’t quite work that way. According to a recent report by The College Board, the average overall cost for students for the 2012-2013 academic year at a four-year public university when paying in-state tuition is $22,225. For many students, using grants, college funds, government student loans and private student loans isn’t enough. Finding scholarships to help pay for school is becoming more of a necessity than a bonus.

So how can you earn scholarships for college? You need to stand out. Good grades are no longer enough on their own. Extracurricular activities help, but they’re not enough either. Nearly every scholarship application comes with a request for an essay. One of the keys to rising above your competitors and receiving monetary awards is to ace the essay question. How? Here are 5 tips to help you write a scholarship-winning essay. It could make the difference between going to college and not making the grade.

1. Follow the Guidelines

Although it sounds simple, following directions is one of the most important keys to writing the winning essay. Some students take one look at the guidelines and start writing, but never go back and make sure they have met all of the requirements. They miss the basics that a scholarship committee is looking for and can’t figure out why they were not chosen. Don’t be one of those students. Read the guidelines. If you don’t understand them, ask a parent or a teacher for help in deciphering the sticky points. Pay attention to length, topic, format and the deadline date. When you’re finished writing, go back to the guidelines and look at them again. Reread your essay and count your words. If you don’t meet the guidelines, tweak your essay until you do.

2. Answer the Question

One of the first things you probably learned in English class at a young age is to start an essay by putting part of the question into your answer. This is a good time to follow that practice. Create an outline of the points you want to make before you get started, then follow them as you write. While you may have some interesting things to share, be sure that you don’t stray too far off topic. Don’t forget to put a conclusion at the end of your essay that brings back the main point of the essay question. If you are filling out multiple applications for multiple college scholarships, take the time to make each one unique. You can’t use the same one for every application.

3. Yes, Spelling and Grammar Count

While your personality and your voice are important, scholarship committees want to know that you have a strong foundation in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Much of the schoolwork you will be doing in college involves writing term papers, answering test questions in essay form and responding to homework assignment questions. Show that you can be successful in some of the most basic requirements of a successful college education. Use a computer spell check program and proofread your work carefully. Don’t make up words. This isn’t the place for it. Make sure that you have subject and verb agreement in every sentence. Be consistent with punctuation and capitalization. If you’re not sure of a word’s meaning, look it up or use another word. Using big words won’t help you to sound intelligent if you don’t understand their meaning and use them the wrong way.

When you get to the end of your essay, go back to the beginning and create an interesting and compelling title that captures your piece in a nutshell. Proofread your work when you’re finished, then set it aside for a few hours or a few days. Go back and read it again, pretending that you’re your English teacher or a committee member. It should be polished and free of errors. Make it the best piece you’ve ever written. Don’t be afraid to show it to someone else and ask for their opinion before you send in your application.

4. Meet the Deadline

There’s an old adage that says, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” If you miss the deadline, you probably won’t be considered. Pay careful attention to the cut-off date and submit your applications with some time to spare, just in case there’s a problem.

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5. Show Your Personality

Colleges want students who will work hard and enhance the student body at their school. They want applicants who are interested in furthering their education and their cause. This is your opportunity to explain why you’re the best candidate for their college scholarships. Whether it’s an academic scholarship, one that’s based on your planned major or one offered by a local organization, show them who you are. Talk about some of your life experiences, your hopes and your dreams. Be honest. Be creative. Let them get to know you.

When you sit down to work on your applications and essays for scholarship awards, take the time to do things right. Follow the guidelines, meet the deadlines and do your best. With hard work and a little bit of luck, you may earn some extra funding to help you achieve your dreams.

Nicole is an independent writer for CollegeAnswer.com. College Answer offers information on saving, planing and paying for college.

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